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Archive for December, 2015

For nothing is impossible with God.” Luke 1:37 (NLT)

We enter 2016 with one. We were born into one. We are never without one. We often wish we had a different one. Many of our complaints and hopes are about it. Most of us have tried to escape it a time or two or more. From the moment we are conceived we contribute to it. Even after die we still affect it – CONTEXT.

The truth that “nothing is impossible for God’ stands on its own; it is an eternal and constant reality. This is terrific news, not just at the beginning of a new year but at the beginning of and throughout every day, and in any context. There is an accompanying truth to God’s omnipotence: we are not. Many things, most things are impossible for us. We cannot turn water into wine any more than we can walk on water. We cannot speak an entire cosmos into existence anymore than we can sustain the universe. We cannot transcend the laws of nature or escape death. We do not know all the questions much less the right answers. 2016 will confront us with more of our “can’ts” than we’d like.

Although For nothing is impossible with God” stands on its own it is quoted out of context. It was part of the angel’s answer to Mary wondering how she could end up being pregnant without having sex. It was meant to encourage her to trust God and take up his invitation to participate in his eternal plan and redemptive work. Mary’s context wasn’t godless or without faith, she believed in God, she was a very decent person, but this was an invitation to trust in and walk with God at a completely different level. This wasn’t about merely believing that God did some incredible things in the past, or listening to someone else’s experience, this was about her adjusting her life to the will of God on the basis of his omnipotence instead of her own capacity to believe. Her response, “God I have no idea how you will do this, but I know and trust that you can. So Lord, I am yours to do as you please” (Luke 1:38, my paraphrase).

Mary’s surrender to the reality and will of God completely changed her context, and in the long view of history even ours, but on God’s terms and not hers. That’s our struggle, in the face of our can’ts and our life’s impossibles we would love to harness the power of God to change our and others’ contexts, and when he won’t bend to us we become angry, dismissive, cynical, defiant. It is sinful arrogance to think the Omnipotent should bow to the impotent, that the powerless can harness the Almighty. The finite, us, has just one proper response to infinite power – SURRENDER, to adjust ourselves to reality and will of God.

God’s 2016 invitation is to walk with him, on his terms, to live out his will, to let his omnipotence define and direct our lives, to live our lives in the context of him and his Son Jesus Christ. And when we do our experience, our understanding, our context and even our prayers will change.

“Seek the LORD while you can find him. Call on him now while he is near. Let the wicked change their ways and banish the very thought of doing wrong. Let them turn to the LORD that he may have mercy on them. Yes, turn to our God, for he will forgive generously. “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the LORD. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts” Isaiah 55:6-9 (NLT).

“Oh, that you would burst from the heavens and come down! How the mountains would quake in your presence! As fire causes wood to burn and water to boil, your coming would make the nations tremble. Then your enemies would learn the reason for your fame! When you came down long ago, you did awesome deeds beyond our highest expectations. And oh, how the mountains quaked! For since the world began, no ear has heard, and no eye has seen a God like you, who works for those who wait for him! You welcome those who gladly do good, who follow godly ways.” Isaiah 64:1-5a (NLT).

What will your 2016 context look like? Will God figure into it to his extent? Oh, how I hope so.

Happy New Year! Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

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After the wise men were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up! Flee to Egypt with the child and his mother,” the angel said. “Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” That night Joseph left for Egypt with the child and Mary, his mother, and they stayed there until Herod’s death. This fulfilled what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: “I called my Son out of Egypt.” Herod was furious when he realized that the wise men had outwitted him. He sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, based on the wise men’s report of the star’s first appearance.
Matthew 2:13-16 (NLT)

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were political refugees. They had to pack up in the middle of the night and flee a violent madman named Herod, who had no regard for human rights. Among those he slaughtered were an untold number of babies in children in order to hang on power. What they needed was to be out of harm’s way, safety, protection, a place where the threat and violence could not reach them, a place where they no longer had to run. Luckily for Jesus and his parents Egypt did not have a closed door attitude and policy regarding Jewish refugees.

From the Roman perspective the Jews were a strange lot, with strange beliefs, odd practices, folks who created their own enclaves, who stuck together, and who didn’t integrate well. The place they called their homeland was a region of continual unrest, terrorism, and instability. And of course they were easy to blame for all kinds of things, it was easy to marginalize them, to reduce them to one lot, to make them an impersonal issue.

I wonder how Jesus, Mary, and Joseph thought and felt about refugees after they had been refugees themselves? When the topic came up in their home, in the carpenter shop, at the well, in the market, or on Saturday in the synagogue, what was their tone? What opinions did they hold and defend? What did they wish for, advocate for, and pray for regarding refugees? Because the things that we go through ourselves do shape us, do affect how we think and feel about them, and often make us more empathetic.

How many people helped Jesus, Mary, and Joseph along the way, during the time they were exiled in Egypt, the time they could not go back home? I am sure what the Wise Men gave them came in handy. But from my own experience of being an immigrant I know how much it means for people to reach out to you, to engage with you, to care about you, to help you, to be generous to you, to include you, to pray for you, to give you a chance. I can’t tell you how grateful I am for all who have treated me that way, and I can’t help but think that Jesus and his parents felt the same.

How should the church, the organization Jesus started, the group of people he calls his body, think, feel, and act regarding refugees? What would he have us advocate, stand up for? How would he have us engage with those who are on the run, who can’t go back home, who are displaced by violence, politics, disasters, and economics? And where does the church get its cues to discern Jesus’, God’s (Jesus is God incarnate), opinion, heart, and directives? I believe the answer to that last question is: Through the Holy Spirit, through God’s written word (the Bible), through the example of Christ, and both through a willingness to follow where these lead us and to radically love.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

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If you are searching for that that last minute or super special Christmas gift you might want to consider having a star named for the person you have on your mind. You can choose between an “Ordinary Star” (from $19.95), and “Extra Bright Star” (from $39.95), or a “Binary Star” (from $64.95). If you want go all out with this idea you can go with the gift sets (from $74.95, $84.95, $124.94 respectively).  You could join 17,000 others who plunked their money down to have someone’s name attached to a real star by this independent, albeit unofficial, star registry. Yes, you could brighten someone’s Christmas Day, more accurately night, in a way they never imagined. And if you ever misplace or lose your “Star Deed” you can contact the good folks at STARNAME Registry.org and they will help you. I am sure the passing along of this ordinary, extra, or double “bright idea” will be another reason why you so value my Pastor’s Notes.

I wonder. How much money have stars generated over time? How many other clever star schemes have people come up with? Astrology is alive and well even today, and suckers are still being borne every day. But the stars themselves, the universe as a whole does declare truth, The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship” Psalm 19:1 (NLT); “The heavens proclaim his righteousness; every nation sees his glory” Psalm 97:6 (NLT); “The basic reality of God is plain enough. Open your eyes and there it is! By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can’t see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being. So nobody has a good excuse (for not acknowledging and worshiping God)” Romans 1:19-20 (MSG, parenthesis mine).

Regardless of the tendency of sinful human nature to either exploit and pervert spiritual things or to disregard God and explain him away, the testimony of the stars stands, God is real, his power and wisdom are both incomprehensible and immense, we are accountable to him, and the most proper response to God is to love, worship, and obey him. “Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him’” Matthew 2:1-2 (NLT). That star was visible to anyone who cared to look, but it seems people came to vastly different conclusion and vastly different responses. Most wise men from eastern lands stayed home, kept peddling the same astrology they had for centuries, it is difficult to adjust yourself to spiritual truth. King Herod saw the very notion of a new king as a threat his godless world of politics and power, it is difficult to submit to divine authority. The Jewish elite and scholars did not want their personal, political, and religious world be turned upside down, so they also gave it no significance, it is difficult to take God at his word.

For this Christmas I challenge you to look up into the night sky and see and hear its declaration of God, to pursue spiritual truth, to lead you to worship. If you follow that path it will still lead you to Jesus Christ, God incarnate, the ultimate revelation of God, the one who can save us from our sins.

Merry Christmas. Love you, Pastor Hans

P.S. If you are tempted to go the Star Registry website, RESIST! Instead look for ways to give those $20-100 or so to your church, a missionary agency, the Salvation Army, Red Cross, Doctors without Borders, World Vision, Compassion International, or help someone in your community, or find a way to help the millions of refugees of our day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:10-11 (NASB)

Chances are high that you have a Christmas list, if not on paper then at least in your head, of people you intend to give a gift or send a card. It might be a very long list or one that is very short. The card list is fairly easy, the only challenges are to get the cards and get them out on time. The gift list, on the other hand, can be quite challenging. Some people are notoriously difficult to find gifts for, they either have most everything already or are simply not easy to please. Some folks have very high expectations which add significant pressure. Others we feel obligated to have on our list but if we are honest our motivation level toward them is not very high. There are of course those to whom we want to give nothing but the best, pull out all the stops, stretch ourselves financially beyond what is prudent. But no matter who is on your list chances are high you will need only one sheet of paper to note all of their names, maybe even the fingers of your hands will suffice to count them all up.

Go back and read the scripture at the top again and check out God’s Christmas list, “Good News” “Great Joy” “A Savior” – “for all the people.” No one left out, no one overlooked, no one in the obligatory category, no one designated for “card only.” Everyone on the major, lavish (Ephesians 1:3-8a), all out gift list. It is astounding that anyone would end up on that list. None of us is deserving. For each one of us God (who knows us completely) has many and convincing reasons to leave us off the list, to take out a pen and cross out our names. But somehow, graciously, gloriously God has put your and my name, along with everyone else’s on his Christmas giving list.

Answer honestly. Have you ever gotten a Christmas gift you didn’t really care about, for which you were not all that grateful? Does that include what God gave at Christmas, his Son Jesus Christ, the Savior you and I need? Has it ever struck you how much God cares about you, and how much you and I need what he has given? And what hope can we have if we disregard God’s ultimate gift, that which we need most?

And one more call to Christmas honesty. We struggle with God’s Christmas list because it includes those we don’t like, our enemies, evil doers, haters, ingrates, brats, the lazy, the unjust, the …. It includes those we’d leave off, those whom we label as “undeserving.” It is a list we would have never compiled on our own. How compatible is God’s Christmas list with your and my worldview, our politics, our level of compassion, our willingness to be “lavish” when it comes to mercy, grace, love, and giving?

Merry Christmas. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

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The Us Postal Service, UPS, Fed-Ex, DHL, are all busy delivering packages. Several of them were dropped off at our doorstep this week. I’ve never worked for any of those outfits but it has to be crazy around Christmas time.

Just today the UPS man delivered a new artificial Christmas tree, complete with lights. Our old one was dropping needles like a dried out real Christmas tree, slowly morphing into a Charlie Brown Christmas tree. This of course means it is time to bring up the decorations from under the house and get everything looking like Christmas.

In one sense it is good that Christmas only lasts for a short (albeit ever expanding) season, we’d be worn out, even fatter, and broke if it were. But wouldn’t it be great if some of the things of Christmas were to persist all year long, like generosity, the effort to bless people and make others happy, an emphasis of recognizing and worshipping God?

Back to the delivery guys this pastor’s note started with. All of us actually do deliver something most every day and throughout the year. Sometimes our deliveries bless, bring joy, help, and encourage. Sometimes our deliveries resemble more a Waste Management truck backing up and dumping its load at the local landfill. I am talking about what our lips deliver on a daily basis. If you have a few minutes get out a Bible and read the Christmas story in Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2, as you read look for what comes out of the mouths of the people who really get Christmas, look for “Christmas Lips” and ask yourself if you have yours on? Hear the words of praise and worship, of kindness and blessing, of hope and peace, of awe and surrender, of truth and compassion, of wonder and amazement, both spoken and implied, from both the tongues of men and angels. So do you have them on, your “Christmas lips?”

Imagine what difference it would make if long after all the Christmas decorations are put back under the house we still had our “Christmas lips” on? What if kind, peaceful, and encouraging words would scent the air throughout the year? What if truth, hope, and mercy would be packages we regularly, continually, and faithfully deliver? What if the fruit of our lips were never foul but sweet, forgiving, and beneficial? What if the words from our mouths were more God-centered, more spiritually aware, more filled with worship and praise? How would it impact our relationships, our homes, our places of work, our public discourse if we decided to not take down and pack up our “Christmas lips?” What would it be like if others anticipated with joy things delivered with our mouths?

Let me end with a “Christmas Lips” prayer, Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my rock and my Redeemer” Psalm 19:14 (NASB).

Merry Christmas. Pastor Hans

 

 

 

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